Speaking Class Activity: Pictogloss

As I mentioned in my last post, this year part of my teaching programme this year is dedicated to speaking and writing classes. There is no set syllabus - we have just been asked to supplement the topics covered in their regular English class - and therefore no book or set materials. Another plus is that only half of the class is with me for these lessons (the other half come at a different time later in the week). It is so nice to be able to work with just 15 or 16 students instead of the usual 30+!

Anyway, I want to recount some of the activities we have done on my blog, both as an act of reflection for myself and to see what you all think and if you have any suggestions. I'm a little bit behind here so I'm starting witjh the lesson done the week before last: Pictogloss.

I'm sure most of you have tried or at least heard of  Dictogloss, in which students listen to a short text read by the teacher and try to reconstruct it. The catch is, they can't write as the teacher speakers (it is not dictattion after all) - they can only take notes. The students then get into groups, compare notes and try to write the text they have just heard. This really gets them thinking about the language in detail and focuses their attention on finer details of grammar they often make mistakes with. At the end of the activity, they compare their version with other groups and finally compare it to the original.

This year, I want to use the opportunity presented by having just half a class at a time to do more dictogloss with my 4th graders. Obviously, it is a demanding task for them and they need to be gradually introduced to it. The first step in that direction was taken with a slight variation on the activity. We had been working on describing animals and people and so I read out a description of an alien, much like the cute little chap below:
Mr D
By DaveDodgson | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon

I asked the students to just listen a couple of times and then put them into groups of 3 and told them to draw it! They had fun doing it and got into discussions using the target language about exactly what I had said. "He said a BIG green eye, not a small one!" and "It hasn't got a body, only two short legs" were the kind of things I was hearing. Once they were done, we looked at my original picture and made comparisons. The students then produced their own aliens (without letting their friends see!) and repeated the activity in pairs. Before we knew it, the lesson had passed and they had 3 cool alien pictures in their notebooks, which they had spoken a lot of English to produce. They weren't too keen on my suggestion that they could write a description of one of the aliens at home but several of them did, nonetheless.

We'll be moving onto the written form of dictogloss soon!


  1. Thank you for sharing your lesson, you have certainly inspired me to revive my attempts at pictogloss. It sounds like a fun activity and I had a sympathetic chuckle about the written description part. Perhaps you could get them to audio record their descriptions instead.

  2. Hi Mr Wood. Thanks for stopping by!

    Recording would be a great idea. I'm waiting, waiting, waiting for my school to approve blogs for the kids. In that case, we could scan and upload their drawings together with a redorded description. For now, we make do with pencil and paper!

  3. Hi,
    I'm working now on my alien/ monster lesson, that with parts of the body, for my 3 graders and I will definitely try the pictogloss. I also liked your previous idea of using a picture of a character for more lessons, developing it constantly.


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